NEW PROVIDENCE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A Jersey City police officer who died in the line of duty is living through the organs he donated, CBS 2’s Elise Finch reported.

Five years ago, Jersey City Police Officer Marc Anthony DiNardo died during a shootout with two robbery suspects. He died one day before his 38th birthday.

After his death, his widow, Mary DiNardo, made the difficult decision to donate her husband’s organs. On Tuesday, she and her family celebrated his birthday with the man who received her husband’s heart, Don Zolkiwsky.

“We’ve been sad a very long time and even though every year I try to make it a fun day for the kids, it’s kind of hard to mask my sadness,” DiNardo said. “Celebrating his life and celebrating his gift of life made sense to me.”

Officer DiNardo and Zolkiwsky had a lot in common: both were born in Jersey City, both were of Italian and Ukrainian heritage, both men graduated from St. Peter’s College and both led a life of service. DiNardo was a decorated police officer and Zolkiwsky is a Vietnam War veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart after surviving an attack with his Army airborne unit.

“How else can you feel other than overwhelming gratitude?” Zolkiwsky said.

Since her husband’s death, Mary DiNardo has become an advocate for organ donation, supporting efforts to encourage first responders to become organ donors.

Officer DiNardo’s family says his last heroic act was giving the gift of life. Now, the man who received his heart has plans to do the very same thing.

“One of the first things I did after I got out of the hospital and recuperated was to put my driver’s license to show that I’m an organ donor,” Zolkiwsky said.

When the time comes, the heart recipient plans to pay it forward– a fitting tribute to the fallen police officer who gave him a second chance at life.

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